Creem JULY 1986 - by Dave DiMartino



Not to claim extreme hipness or anything, but I was grooving on this idea of sonic environments as a mere pup. Sonic environments, soundscapes, boring random noises that simulate life itself, whatever - as a teenboy in '70s or so, Hip City for me involved a couple of Terry Riley albums played nonstop in a dark bedroom while the physical act of breathing was being pondered. Early '70s experiments involved picking up Steve Reich's Come Out and Violin Phase, the Chatham Square Philip Glass LPs, some of the Soft Machine stuff - check out Hugh Hopper's 1984 album of '71 - and actual music manipulation. As a drunken college DJ, I'd occasionally play Metal Machine Music and Glass's Music In Similar Motion on both turntables simultaneously (sounds great!) before passing out on the air; for kicks at home I taped Tangerine Dream's Zeit import at seven-and-a-half on the reel-to-reel and played it back at one-and-seven-eighths. It lasted over five hours, most of it bass drones, and I used to play it loud indeed.

Eno used to do stuff like that, too. I know that because once I heard him on a hip Canadian radio station raving about cool bands like Can, Neu and Cluster (who he ended up playing with), and I heard the two Fripp & Eno albums, which were pretty much regurgitations of Terry Riley's A Rainbow In Curved Air LP. I was not impressed. Not so much because he was getting the credit for lots of other people's pioneering - ain't that always the way? - but because he seemed to be using all the proper "tools" and coming up empty.

Basically, the Bald Icon That Eno Be has always struck me as an "ideas" type of guy - whenever he comes up with an original idea (not very often, I gotta add), it's the sort of thing that's more impressive on paper than on vinyl. Remember Portsmouth Sinfonia? Take a few musicians who can play, add more who can't, and let the latter group imitate the playing of the former. Result: bad music, but consistently bad music - and the badness itself, how it was manifested, was what was most intriguing. But the album sucked, and I played it only once.

Likewise most of the "ambient" stuff that Eno - or Een, as Jeffrey Morgan wisely nicknamed the ol' biddy - has since produced. For all the guy's talk about the minimalism of Erik Satie and "music for airports", the bottom line was that Eno stopped creating and started conceptualizing - and the only winners were the Here Come The Warm Jets fans that would still buy the Bald One's works religiously, no matter how bland-in-the-name-o'-art they'd become, until they too lost interest. And the records got very bland.

But Eno perseveres. His transition from audio to video should've come as no surprise to anyone who had the patience to sit around and listen to all his ambient thingies and wait for this "transitional" period of his to end; it won't, not when there's this vast new field of visual-snoozing for Eno to embrace and explore. Which he will, believe me.

Thursday Afternoon is Eno's first conceptual video that's commercially available, and it's supposed to be boring and it is, so I guess it's a success. All I know is you're supposed to turn your TV over on its side to watch the thing; I did, and when I turned the TV back the way it was supposed to be, there were color splotches on two corners of the screen that didn't go away until the next day. And it's a Trinitron. The "program" includes some just-dandy ambient tinkles that last eighty-two minutes and accompany "seven video paintings of Christine Alcino," a pert, petite and charming lass who, by the way, should be tickled pink by the second painting, since in it she looks like the Goodyear Blimp, only fatter. That wacky Een!

What can you say about this stuff? Way back in the pup days, a few friends and I would watch Mr. Ed on late night TV, wait for the station to go off the air, then screw around with the snow on the screen. Try this: turn your set's darkness control full-blast until you can only see little snow, or even the suggestion of some snow. Turn your color control all the way up. Then play around with the darkness knob a little more. Turn the sound off and groove on the high-frequency noises the picture tube itself produces. Then see if you can find one of those Environments that Atlantic used to distribute. or that humpback whale thing. Heck, take drugs if you want - it's all for the sake of art! Ask Eno!

And if you've ever seen Koyaanisqatsi, a nifty art film which Philip Glass did the music for in '82, you might as well forget about staying awake for the Windham Hill videos. Western Light is just one of four of 'em, and they're all the same: scenic landscapes, no humans, and pretty music. Lots of pretty music. Music so pretty you'll be extremely hard-pressed to ever sing a note of it, because most of it doesn't have any melody, doesn't go anywhere, and is a tremendous help to those in the slide-show business who need pretty music that doesn't go anywhere. I mention the Glass film because it's similar in approach to these Windham Hill things but mind-blowing; these are half that.

My own ambient ambitions: I've got a forty-minute drive to work every day. I often drive from Detroit to Miami. I have every intention of picking one of those new compact disc video-cameras by the end of the year, plugging it into my car's cigarette lighter, positioning it by the dashboard and actually taping all my favorite drives, with the tape deck blasting current faves, so I can watch hours upon hours of 1986, when life was good, in a few more years. If it gets boring, I can speed it up.